We are three weeks into our “Dear Pain…” series and I have to say that the letters so far have been so beautiful. I, myself, am so glad to read these because it reminds me that I am not alone in this. I am not the only one who struggles to get through the day sometimes, that it’s not just me who feels afraid or different from the other people in my life.
This week’s post is written by a fellow blogger Maret, who also happens to be my “Surgery Sis” because we went through our first major procedures on the same day in August of 2012. If you like what you read here, check out her blog spot here.
Since your chronic onset several years ago, I have done all I can to avoid you and get rid of you and this past year after having surgery, try to block you from my mind and not to think about you as much. But lately I have been reading about leaning into all of Life’s experiences and I realize that just as much as I want to lean into joyous moments, I must also learn to lean into difficult circumstances as well, and show kindness and compassion to even my inner critic or anxious thoughts or scared feelings or stabbing pain.
It has taken me a long time and a lot of reading and a lot of reflection to get to this point, and I’m far from mastering the “leaning in” tactic. I still find myself resisting the pain I experience, generally and thankfully only one or two days a month now, but this can also be applied to emotional pain, painful memories, and the trauma of what I have been through—of the hell I visited with stabbing pain, chronic achiness, major surgery, and open wounds. When I feel myself squinch my face up and tense my entire body up, I am more aware now that I’m trying to fight the pain I’m feeling. Which seems totally logical, doesn’t it? Why wouldn’t we want to fight painful feelings? I’ve been taught to fight back, not bow down and let something take me over.
But from reading more about vulnerability and self-compassion from the great thinkers like Pema Chodron and Brene Brown, I am realizing that surrendering is very powerful and has VERY powerful effects on pain. I heard once at a 5-day silent meditation retreat that I went to several years ago that we should welcome ALL feelings into our being, like guests, but also know that they won’t be staying forever. The Guesthouse by Rumi is a wonderful poem about this. I also love the quote from Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy (aka. SARK) which reads: “I’m learning to hold the little hands of those scared parts inside of myself, and just sit with them. They love this.” I want to challenge myself to try this even with pain. Because pain, for me, is connected to fear.
Quite frankly, I am afraid of pain. Always have been. I don’t like it. I feel so vulnerable—there’s that word again. So maybe something to try is to become more comfortable with feeling vulnerable. I have a sticky note on my computer screen which reads “Perk up and lean in.” I heard it at a 2-day mindfulness training I attended last June. I love the metaphorical image it creates in my mind. I picture my kitty cat leaning into me so lovingly. I picture myself leaning into my beloved husband, trusting him completely and openly. I picture my future babies leaning into me with all the love in the world. I want to get to the point where I can lean into ALL circumstances and feelings I experience. It will definitely be a challenge, but I think even baby steps towards this will slowly add up and begin to build up my acceptance of vulnerability and pain and fear.
I cannot tell you how much reading and research I’ve done in search of a way of getting rid of fear, only to find out that the secret is actually to lean into it and befriend it, or at the very least acknowledge its existence and hold its hand. It is quite comforting when I do this.
Now the trick is to remember this the next time I experience pain. My husband does a wonderful job reminding me to breathe and showing me unconditional love. Sometimes holding my kitty cat and hearing her purr soothes me and reminds me to slow down my breath. Sometimes I begin to pray and ask for help from the Divine.
I think I will remember to lean in during difficult, painful times if I begin to practice leaning in with uncomfortable feelings that are less painful. I have several weeks to go before my pain will return to pay me its now monthly visit, so I think I ought to start practicing with some of Life’s daily annoyances now.
But I also want to and must practice self-compassion, because when pain does it, if I don’t remember to lean in, if I get angry again with the pain, if I don’t feel very mindful in those desperate moments, I can at least show myself kindness and not judge myself for not feeling very graceful under these circumstances. We do the best we can and I certainly wouldn’t yell at a good friend for crying out in pain, so why don’t I extend that same kindness and compassion to myself? Self-compassion is definitely a daily practice thing as well, so taking little steps to show myself more kindness may help me remember to be kind in moments when I don’t feel very graceful.
May I remember to show myself kindness in challenging moments, in all moments for that matter. May I remember to lean in and make all my feelings feel welcome, rather than tense up and step away from the pain.
Respectfully and lovingly,